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Sea Monsters

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The Great Sea Serpent

The belief in the existence of sea-serpents of formidable dimensions is of great antiquity. Aristotle, writing about B.C. 340, says:—"The serpents of Libya are of an enormous size. Navigators along that coast report having seen a great quantity of bones of oxen, which they believe, without doubt, to have been devoured by the serpents. These serpents pursued them when they left the shore, and upset one of their triremes"—a vessel of a large class, having three banks of oars.

Pliny tells us that a squadron sent by Alexander the Great on a voyage of discovery, under the command of Onesicritus and Nearchus, encountered, in the neighbourhood of some islands in the Persian Gulf, sea-serpents thirty feet long, which filled the fleet with terror.

Valerius Maximus,fortified towns. According to the historian, the annoyance caused by it to the army did not cease with its death, for the water was polluted with its gore, and the air with the noxious fumes from its corrupted carcase, to such a degree that the Romans were obliged to remove their camp. They, however secured the animal's skin and skull, which were preserved in a temple at Rome till the time of the Numantine war. This combat has been described, to the same effect, by Florus (lib. ii.), Seneca (litt. 82), Silvius Italicus (l. vi.), Aulus Gellius (lib. vi., cap. 3), Orosius, Zonaras, &c., and is referred to by Pliny (lib. viii., cap. 14) as an incident known to every one. Diodorus Siculus also tells of a great serpent, sixty feet long, which lived chiefly in the water, but landed at frequent intervals to devour the cattle in its neighbourhood. A party was collected to capture it; but their first attempt failed, and the monster killed twenty of them. It was afterwards taken in a strong net, carried alive to Alexandria, and presented to King Ptolemy II., the founder of the Alexandrian Library and Museum, who was a great collector of zoological and other curiosities. This snake was probably one of the great boas.

The "Serpens marinus" is figured and referred to by many other writers, but as they evidently allude to the Conger and the Murena, we will pass over their descriptions.

The sea-serpents mentioned by Aristotle, Pliny, and Diodorus were, doubtless, real sea-snakes, true marine ophidians, which are more common in tropical seas than is generally supposed. They are found most abundantly in the Indian Ocean; but they have an extensive geographical range, and between forty and fifty species of them are known. They are all highly poisonous, and some are so ferocious that they more frequently attack than avoid man. The greatest length to which they are authentically known to attain is about twelve feet. The form and structure of these hydrophides are modified from those of land serpents, to suit their aquatic habits. The tail is compressed vertically, flattened from the sides, so as to form a fin like the tail of an eel, by which they propel themselves; but instead of tapering to a point, it is rounded off at the end, like the blade of a paper-knife, or the scabbard of a cavalry sabre. Like other lung-breathing animals which live in water, they are also provided with a respiratory apparatus adapted to their circumstances and requirements—their nostrils, which are very small, being furnished, like those of the seal, manatee, &c., with a valve opening at will to admit air, and closing perfectly to exclude water.

Leaving these water-snakes of the tropics, we come, next in order of date, upon some very remarkable evidence that there was current amongst a community where we should little expect to find it, the idea of a marine monster corresponding in many respects with some of the descriptions given several centuries later of the sea-serpent. In an interesting article on the Catacombs of Rome in the Illustrated London News of February 3rd, 1872, allusion is made by the author to the collection of sarcophagi or coffins of the early Christians, removed from the Catacombs, and preserved in the museum of the Lateran Palace, where they were arranged by the late Padre Marchi for Pope Pius IX. There are more than twenty of these, sculptured with various designs—the Father and the Son, Adam and Eve and the Serpent, the Sacrifice of Abraham, Moses striking the Rock, Daniel and the Lions, and other Scripture themes. Amongst them also is Jonah and the "whale." A facsimile of this sculpture (Fig. 11) is one of the illustrations of the article referred to. It will be seen that Jonah is being swallowed feet foremost, or possibly being ejected head first, by an enormous sea monster, having the chest and fore-legs of a horse, a long arching neck, with a mane at its base, near the shoulders, a head like nothing in nature, but having hair upon and beneath the cheeks, the hinder portion of the body being that of a serpent of prodigious length, undulating in several vertical curves. This sculpture appears to have been cut between the beginning and the middle of the third century, about A.D. 230, but it probably represents a tradition of far greater antiquity.

FIG. 11.—JONAH AND THE SEA MONSTER. From the Catacombs of Rome.

We will now consider the accounts given by Scandinavian historians, of the sea-serpent having been seen in northern waters. Here, I suppose, I ought to indulge in the usual flippant sneer at Bishop Pontoppidan. I know that in abstaining from doing so I am sadly out of the fashion; but I venture to think that the dead lion has been kicked at too often already, and undeservedly. Whether there be, or be not, a huge marine animal, not necessarily an ophidian, answering to some of the descriptions of the sea-serpent—so called—Pontoppidan did not invent the stories told of its appearance. Long before he was born the monster had been described and figured; and for centuries previously the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, and Fins had believed in its

"They who in works of navigation on the coasts of Norway employ themselves in fishing or merchandize do all agree in this strange story, that there is a serpent there which is of a vast magnitude, namely 200 foot long, and moreover, 20 foot thick; and is wont to live in rocks and caves toward the sea-coast about Berge: which will go alone from his holes on a clear night in summer, and devour calves, lambs, and hogs, or else he goes into the sea to feed on polypus (octopus), locusts (lobsters), and all sorts of sea-crabs. He hath commonly hair hanging from his neck a cubit long, and sharp scales, and is black, and he hath flaming, shining eyes. This snake disquiets the shippers; and he puts up his head on high like a pillar, and catcheth away men, and he devours them; and this happeneth not but it signifies some wonderful change of the kingdom near at hand; namely, that the princes shall die, or be banished; or some tumultuous wars shall presently follow. There is also another serpent of an incredible magnitude in an island called Moos in the diocess of Hammer; which, as a comet portends a change in all the world, so that portends a change in the kingdom of Norway, as it was seen anno 1522; that lifts himself high above the waters, and rolls himself round like a sphere. This serpent was thought to be fifty cubits long by conjecture, by sight afar off: there followed this the banishment of King Christiernus, and a great persecution of the Bishops; and it shewed also the destruction of the country."

The Gothic Archbishop, amongst other signs and omens, also attributes this power of divination to the small red ants which are sometimes so troublesome in houses, and declares that they also portended the downfall, A.D. 1523, of the abominably cruel Danish king, Christian II., above mentioned. His curious work is full of wild improbabilities and odd superstitions, most of which he states with a calm air of unquestioning assent; but as he wrote in the time of our Henry VIII., long before the belief in witches and warlocks, fairies and banshees, had died out in our own country, we can hardly throw stones at him on that score. It is a most amusing and interesting history, and gives a wonderful insight of the habits and customs of the northern nations in his day.

Amongst his illustrations of the sea monsters he describes are the two of which I give facsimiles on the next page. In Fig. 12 a sea-serpent is seen writhing in many coils upon the surface of the water, and having in its mouth a sailor, whom it has seized from the deck of a ship. The poor fellow is trying to grasp the ratlins of the shrouds, but is being dragged from his hold and lifted over the bulwarks by the monster. His companions, in terror, are endeavouring to escape in various directions. One is climbing aloft by the stay, in the hope of getting out of reach in that way, whilst two others are hurrying aft to obtain the shelter of a little castle or cabin projecting over the stern. I am strongly of the opinion that this is but the fallacious representation of an actual occurrence. Read by the light of recent knowledge, these old pictures convey to a practised eye a meaning as clear as that of hieroglyphics to an Egyptologist, and my translation of this is the following: The crew of a ship have witnessed the dreadful sight of a serpent-like form issuing from the sea, rising over the bulwarks of their vessel, seizing one of their messmatestheir own safety to be able, during the short space of time occupied by an affair, which all happened in a few seconds, to observe accurately their terrible assailant, they naturally conjecture that it must have been a snake. It was probably a gigantic calamary, such as we now know exist, and the dead carcases of which have been found in the locality where the event depicted is supposed to have taken place. The presumed body of the serpent was one of the arms of the squid, and the two rows of suckers thereto belonging are indicated in the illustration by the medial line traversing its whole length (intended to represent a dorsal fin) and the double row of transverse septa, one on each side of it.



In Fig. 13 an enormous lobster is in the act of similarly dragging overboard from a vessel a man whom it has seized by the arm with one of its great claws. From the crude image of a lobster having eight minor claws and two larger ones, to that of a cuttle having eight minor arms and two longer ones, the transition is not great; and I believe that this also is a pictorial misrepresentation of a casualty by the attack of a calamary similar to that above described, possibly another view of the same incident. The idea is that of a sea animal capable of suddenly seizing and grasping a man, and we must remember that we have evidence, in the writings of Pontoppidan and others, that, even two centuries later than Olaus Magnus, the Norsemen's knowledge of the cuttles was exceedingly vague and indistinct. Any one who has seen, as I frequently have at the Brighton Aquarium, and as they doubtless had whilst lobster-catching, the threatening and ferocious manner in which a lobster will brandish, and, if I may use the term, "gnash" its claws at an intruding hand, even if held above the surface of the water, can well imagine a party of fishermen discussing such a tragic occurrence as the foregoing, and differing in opinion as to the identity of the creature which had caused the catastrophe, some maintaining that it must have been a sea-serpent, and others shaking their heads and asserting that nothing but a colossal lobster could have done it.

Pontoppidan, in writing his history of Norway, of course had before him the statements of Olaus Magnus; but, though their author was an archbishop, he did not accept them with the childlike simplicity generally ascribed to him. Quoting, and, singularly enough, misquoting, the Swedish prelate as referring to a sea-serpent, when he is describing, incorrectly, one of the Acalephæ, or sea-nettles, Pontoppidan says:—

"I have never heard of this sort, and should hardly believe the good Olaus if he did not say that he affirmed this from his own experience. The disproportion makes me think there must be some error of the press.... He mixes truth and fable together according to the relations of others; but this was excusable in that dark age when that author wrote. Notwithstanding all this, we, in the present more enlightened age, are much obliged to him for his industry and judicious observations."

Of the sea-serpent Pontoppidan writes:—

"I have questioned its existence myself, till that suspicion was removed by full and sufficient evidence from creditable and experienced fishermen and sailors in Norway, of which there are hundreds who can testify that they have annually seen them. All these persons agree very well in the general description; and others who acknowledge that they only know it by report or by what their neighbours have told them, still relate the same particulars. In all my inquiry about these affairs I have hardly spoke with any intelligent person born in the manor of Nordland who was not able to give a pertinent answer, and strong assurances of the existence of this fish; and some of our north traders that come here every year with their merchandize think it a very strange question when they are seriously asked whether there be any such creature: they think it as ridiculous as if the question was put to them whether there be such fish as eel or cod."

The worthy Bishop of Bergen did his best to sift truth from fable, but he could not always succeed in separating them. Many stupendous falsehoods were brought to him, and some of them passed through his sieve in spite of his care. Of these are the accounts of the "spawning times" of the sea-serpent, its dislike of certain scents, &c. We must pass over all this, and confine ourselves to the evidence offered by him of its having been seen.

The first witness he adduces is Captain Lawrence de Ferry, of the Norwegian navy, and first pilot in Bergen, who, premising that he had doubted a great while whether there were any such creature till he had ocular demonstration of it, made the following statement, addressed formally and officially to the procurator of Bergen:—

"Mr. John Reutz—

"The latter end of August, in the year 1746, as I was on a voyage, on my return from Trundhiem, on a very calm and hot day, having a mind to put in at Molde, it happened that when we were arrived with my vessel within six English miles of the aforesaid Molde, being at a place called Jule-Næss, as I was reading in a book, I heard a kind of a murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from the land. Upon this I inquired what was the matter, and was informed that there was a sea-snake before us. I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature of which I had heard so many stories. Though the fellows were under some apprehension, they were obliged to obey my orders. In the meantime the sea-snake passed by us, and we were obliged to tack the vessel about in order to get nearer to it. As the snake swam faster than we could row, I took my gun, that was ready charged, and fired at it; on this he immediately plunged under the water. We rowed to the place where it sunk down (which in the calm might be easily observed) and lay upon our oars, thinking it would come up again to the surface; however it did not. Where the snake plunged down, the water appeared thick and red; perhaps some of the shot might wound it, the distance being very little. The head of this snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse. It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black, and very large. It had black eyes, and a long white mane, that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water. Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds, or coils, of this snake, which were very thick, and as far as we could guess there was about a fathom distance between each fold. I related this affair in a certain company, where there was a person of distinction present who desired that I would communicate to him an authentic detail of all that happened; and for this reason two of my sailors, who were present at the same time and place where I saw this monster, namely, Nicholas Pedersen Kopper, and Nicholas Nicholsen Anglewigen, shall appear in court, to declare on oath the truth of every particular herein set forth; and I desire the favour of an attested copy of the said descriptions.

"I remain, Sir, your obliged servant,

"L. de Ferry.

"Bergen, 21st February, 1751.

"After this the before-named witnesses gave their corporal oaths, and, with their finger held up according to law, witnessed and confirmed the aforesaid letter or declaration, and every particular set forth therein to be strictly true. A copy of the said attestation was made out for the said Procurator Reutz, and granted by the Recorder. That this was transacted in our court of justice we confirm with our hand and seals. Actum Bergis die et loco, ut supra.

"A. C. Dass (Chief Advocate).

"H. C. Gartner (Recorder)."


The figure of the sea-serpent (Fig. 14) given by Pontoppidan was drawn, he tells us, under the inspection of a clergyman, Mr. Hans Strom, from descriptions given of it by two of his neighbours, Messrs. Reutz and Teuchsen, of Herroe; and was declared to agree in every particular with that seen by Captain de Ferry, and another subsequently observed by Governor Benstrup. The supposed coils of the serpent's body present exactly the appearance of eight porpoises following each other in line. This is a well-known habit of some of the smaller cetacea. They are often met with at sea thus proceeding in close single file, part only of their rotund forms being visible as they raise their backs above the surface of the water to inhale air through their "blow-holes." Under these circumstances they have been described by naturalists and seamen as resembling a long string of casks or buoys, often extending for sixty, eighty, or a hundred yards. This is just such a spectacle as that described by Olaus Magnus—his "long line of spherical convolutions," and also as one reported to Pontoppidan as being descriptive of the sea-serpent:—

"'I have been informed,' he says, 'by some of our sea-faring men that a cable would not be long enough to measure the length of some of them when they are observed on the surface of the water in an even line. They say those round lumps or folds sometimes lie one after another as far as a man can see. I confess, if this be true, that we must suppose most probably that it is not one snake, but two or more of these creatures lying in a line that exhibit this phenomenon.' In a foot-note he adds: 'If any one enquires how many folds may be counted on a sea-snake, the answer is that the number is not always the same, but depends upon the various sizes of them: five and twenty is the greatest number that I find well attested.' Adam Olearius, in his Gottorf Museum, writes of it thus: 'A person of distinction from Sweden related here at Gottorf that he had heard the burgomaster of Malmoe, a very worthy man, say that as he was once standing on the top of a very high hill, towards the North Sea, he saw in the water, which was very calm, a snake, which appeared at that distance to be as thick as a pipe of wine, and had twenty-five folds. Those kind of snakes only appear at certain times, and in calm weather.'"

I believe that in every case so far cited from Pontoppidan, as well as that given by Olaus Magnus, the supposed coils or protuberances of the serpent's body, were only so many porpoises swimming in line in accordance with their habit before mentioned. If an upraised head, like that of a horse, was seen preceding them, it was either unconnected with them, or it certainly was not that of a snake; for no serpent could throw its body into those vertical undulations. The form of the vertebræ in the ophidians renders such a movement impossible. All their flexions are horizontal; the curving of their body is from side to side, not up and down.

The sea-monster seen by Egede was of an entirely different kind; and his account of it—let sceptics deride it , but they bear the same unmistakable signs of fidelity which characterise those of the Japanese.

In his 'Journal of the Missions to Greenland' this author tell us that—

"On the 6th of July, 1734, there appeared a very large and frightful sea monster, which raised itself so high out of the water that its head reached above our main-top. It had a long, sharp snout, and spouted water like a whale; and very broad flappers. The body seemed to be covered with scales, and the skin was uneven and wrinkled, and the lower part was formed like a snake. After some time the creature plunged backwards into the water, and then turned its tail up above the surface, a whole ship-length from the head. The following evening we had very bad weather."

The high character of the narrator would lead us to accept his statement that he had seen something previously unknown to him (he does not say it was a sea-serpent) even if we could not explain or understand what it was that he saw. Fortunately, however, the sketch made by Mr. Bing, one of his brother missionaries, has enabled us to do this. We must remember that in his endeavour to raised this portion of its body out of the water to a considerable height, an occurrence which I have often witnessed, and which I have elsewhere described (see pp. 23 and 27). The supposed tail, which was turned up at some distance from the other visible portion of the body, after the latter had sunk back into the sea, was one of the shorter arms of the cuttle, and the suckers on its under side are clearly and conspicuously marked. Egede was, of course, in error in making the "spout" of water to issue from the mouth of his monster. The out-pouring jet, which he, no doubt, saw, came from the locomotor tube, and the puff of spray which would accompany it as the orifice of the tube rose to the surface of the water is sketched with remarkable truthfulness. In quoting Egede, Pontoppidan gives a copy (so-called) of this engraving, but his artist embellished it so much as to deprive it of its original force and character, and of the honestly drawn points which furnish proofs of its identity.



Pontoppidan records other supposed appearances of the sea-serpent, but from the date of his history I know of no other account of such an occurrence until that of an animal "apparently belonging to this class," which was stranded on the Island of Stronsa, one of the Orkneys, in the year 1808:—

"According to the narrative, it was first seen entire, and measured by respectable individuals. It measured fifty-six feet in length, and twelve in circumference. The head was small, not being a foot long from the snout to the first vertebra; the neck was slender, extending to the length of fifteen feet. All the witnesses agree in assigning it blow-holes, though they differ as to the precise situation. On the shoulders something like a bristly mane commenced which extended to near the extremity of the tail. It had three pairs of fins or paws connected with the body; the anterior were the largest, measuring more than four feet in length, and their extremities were something like toes partially webbed. "on these latter fragments and on the wreck of the animal was read by the late Dr. Barclay to the Wernerian Society, and will be found in Vol. I. of its Transactions, to which we refer. We have supplied a wood-cut of the sketch" (of which I give a facsimile here) "which was taken at the time, and which, from the many affidavits proffered by respectable individuals, as well as from other circumstances narrated, leaves no manner of doubt as to the existence of some such animal."


Well! one would think so. It looks convincing, and there is a savour of philosophy about it that might lull the suspicions of a doubting zoologist. What more could be required? We have accurate measurements and a sketch taken of the animal as it lay upon the shore, minute particulars of its outward form, characteristic portions of its skeleton preserved in well-known museums, and any amount of affidavits forthcoming from most respectable individuals if confirmation be required. And yet,

"'Tis true, 'tis pity;  And pity 'tis 'tis true,"

the whole fabric of circumstances crumbled at the touch of science. When the two vertebræ in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons were examined by Sir Everard Home he pronounced them to be those of a great shark of the genus Selache, and as being undistinguishable from those of the species called the "basking shark," of which individuals from thirty to thirty-five feet in length have been from time to time captured or stranded on our coasts. Professor Owen has confirmed this. Any one who feels inclined to dispute the identification by this distinguished comparative anatomist of a bone which he has seen and handled can examine these vertebræ for himself. If they had not been preserved, this incident would have been cited for all time as among the most satisfactorily authenticated instances on record of the appearance of the sea-serpent. As it is, it furnishes a valuable warning of the necessity for the most careful scrutiny of the evidence of well-meaning persons to whom no intentional deception or exaggeration can be imputed.

In 1809, Mr. Maclean, the minister of Eigg, in the Western Isles of Scotland, informed Dr. Neill, the secretary of the Wernerian Society, that he had seen, off the Isle of Canna, a great animal which chased his boat as he hurried ashore to escape from it; and that it was also seen by the crews of thirteen fishing-boats, who were so terrified by it that they fled from it to the nearest creek for safety. His description of it is exceedingly vague, but is strongly indicative of a great calamary.

In 1817 a large marine animal, supposed to be a serpent, was seen at Gloucester Harbour, near Cape Ann, Massachusetts, about thirty miles from Boston. The Linnæan Society of New England investigated the matter, and took much trouble to obtain evidence thereon. The depositions of eleven credible witnesses were certified on oath before magistrates, one of whom had himself seen the creature, and who confirmed the statements. All agreed that the animal had the appearance of a serpent, but estimated its length, variously, at from fifty to a hundred feet. Its head was in shape like that of a turtle, or snake, but as large as the head of a horse. There was no appearance of a mane. Its mode of progressing was by vertical undulations; and five of the witnesses described it as having the hunched protuberances mentioned by Captain de Ferry and others. Of this, I can offer no zoological explanation. The testimony given was apparently sincere, but it was received with mistrust; for, as Mr. Gosse says, "owing to a habit prevalent in the United States of supposing that there is somewhat of wit in gross exaggeration or hoaxing invention, we do naturally look with a lurking suspicion on American statements when they describe unusual or disputed phenomena."

On the 15th of May, 1833, a party of British officers, consisting of Captain Sullivan, Lieutenants Maclachlan and Malcolm of the Rifle Brigade, Lieutenant Lister of the Artillery, and Mr. Ince of the Ordnance, whilst crossing Margaret's Bay in a small yacht, on their way from Halifax to Mahone Bay, "saw, at a distance of a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards, the head and neck of some denizen of the deep, precisely like those of a common snake in the act of swimming, the head so far elevated and thrown forward by the curve of the neck, as to enable them to see the water under and beyond it. The creature rapidly passed, leaving a regular wake, from the commencement of which to the fore part, which was out of water, they judged its length to be about eighty feet." They "set down the head at about six feet in length (considerably larger than that of a horse), and that portion of the neck which they saw at the same." "There could be no mistake—no delusion," they say; "and we were all perfectly satisfied that we had been favoured with a view of the true and veritable sea-serpent." This account was published in the Zoologist, in 1847 (p. 1715), and at that date all the officers above named were still living.

The next incident of the kind in point of date that we find recorded carries us back to the locality of which Pontoppidan wrote, and in which was seen the animal vouched for by Captain de Ferry. In 1847 there appeared in a London daily paper a long account translated from the Norse journals of fresh appearances of the sea-serpent. The statement made was, that it had recently been frequently seen in the neighbourhood of Christiansand and Molde. In the large bight of the sea at Christiansand it had been seen every year, only in the warmest weather, and when the sea was perfectly calm, and the surface of the water unruffled. The evidence of three respectable persons was taken, namely, Nils Roe, a workman at Mr. William Knudtzon's, who saw it twice there, John Johnson, merchant, and Lars Johnöen, fisherman at Smolen. The latter said he had frequently seen it, and that one afternoon in the dog-days, as he was sitting in his boat, he saw it twice in the course of two hours, and quite close to him. It came, indeed, to within six feet of him, and, becoming alarmed, he commended his soul to God, and lay down in the boat, only holding his head high enough to enable him to observe the monster. It passed him, disappeared, and returned; but, a breeze springing up, it sank, and he saw it no more. He described it as being about six fathoms long, the body (which was as round as a serpent's) two feet across, the head as long as a ten-gallon cask, the eyes large, round, red, sparkling, and about five inches in diameter: close behind the head a mane like a fin commenced along the neck, and spread itself out on both sides, right and left, when swimming. The mane, as well as the head, was of the colour of mahogany. The body was quite smooth, its movements occasionally fast and slow. It was serpent-like, and moved up and down. The few undulations which those parts of the body and tail that were out of water made, were scarcely a fathom in length. These undulations were not so high that he could see between them and the water.

In confirmation of this account Mr. Soren Knudtzon, Dr. Hoffmann, surgeon in Molde, Rector Hammer, Mr. Kraft, curate, and several other persons, testified that they had seen in the neighbourhood of Christiansand a sea-serpent of considerable size.

Mr. William Knudtzon, and Mr. Bochlum, a candidate for holy orders, also gave their account of it, much to the same purport; but some of these remarks are worthy of note for future comment. They say, "its motions were in undulations, and so strong that white foam appeared before it, and at the side, which stretched out several fathoms. It did not appear very high out of the water; the head was long and small in proportion to the throat: as the latter appeared much greater than the former, probably it was furnished with a mane."

Sheriffe Göttsche testified to a similar effect. "He could not judge of the animal's entire length; he could not observe its extremity. At the back of the head there was a mane, which was the same colour as the rest of the body."

We must take one more Norwegian account, for it is a very important one. The venerable P. W. Deinbolt,Archdeacon of Molde, gives the following account of an incident that occurred there on the 28th of July, 1845:

"J. C. Lund, bookseller and printer; G. S. Krogh, merchant; Christian Flang, Lund's apprentice, and John Elgenses, labourer, were out on Romsdal-fjord, fishing. The sea was, after a warm, sunshiny day, quite calm. About seven o'clock in the afternoon, at a little distance from the shore, near the ballast place and Molde Hooe, they saw a long marine animal, which slowly moved itself forward, as it appeared to them, with the help of two fins, on the fore-part of the body nearest the head, which they judged by the boiling of the water on both sides of it. The visible part of the body appeared to be between forty and fifty feet in length, and moved in undulations, like a snake. The body was round and of a dark colour, and seemed to be several ells in thickness. As they discerned a waving motion in the water behind the animal, they concluded that part of the body was concealed under water. That it was one continuous animal they saw plainly from its movement. When the animal was about one hundred yards from the boat, they noticed tolerably correctly its fore parts, which ended in a sharp snout; its colossal head raised itself above the water in the form of a semi-circle; the lower part was not visible. The colour of the head was dark-brown and the skin smooth; they did not notice the eyes, or any mane or bristles on the throat. When the serpent came about a musket-shot near, Lund fired at it, and was certain the shots hit it in the head. After the shot it dived, but came up immediately. It raised its neck in the air, like a snake preparing to dart on his prey. After he had turned and got his body in a straight line, which he appeared to do with great difficulty, he darted like an arrow against the boat. They reached the shore, and the animal, perceiving it had come into shallow water, dived immediately and disappeared in the deep. Such is the declaration of these four men, and no one has cause to question their veracity, or imagine that they were so seized with fear that they could not observe what took place so near them. There are not many here, or on other parts of the Norwegian coast, who longer doubt the existence of the sea-serpent. The writer of this narrative was a long time sceptical, as he had not been so fortunate as to see this monster of the deep; but after the many accounts he has read, and the relations he has received from credible witnesses, he does not dare longer to doubt the existence of the sea-serpent.

"P. W. Deinbolt.

"Molde, 29th Nov., 1845."

We may at once accept most fully and frankly the statements of all the worthy people mentioned in this series of incidents. There is no room for the shadow of a doubt that they all recounted conscientiously that which they saw. The last quoted occurrence, especially, is most accurately and intelligently described—so clearly, indeed, that it furnishes us with a clue to the identity of the strange visitant.

Here let me say—and I wish it to be distinctly understood—that I do not deny the possibility of the existence of a great sea serpent, or other great creatures at present unknown to science, and that I have no inclination to explain away that which others have seen, because I myself have not witnessed it. "Seeing is believing," it is said, and it is not agreeable to have to tell a person that, in common parlance, he "must not trust his own eyes." It seems presumptuous even to hint that one may know better what was seen than the person who saw it. And yet I am obliged to say, reluctantly and courteously, but most firmly and assuredly, that these perfectly credible eye-witnesses did not correctly interpret that which they witnessed. In these cases, it is not the eye which deceives, nor the tongue which is untruthful, but the imagination which is led astray by the association of the thing seen with an erroneous idea. I venture to say this, not with any insolent assumption of superior acumen, but because we now possess a key to the mystery which Archdeacon Deinbolt and his neighbours had not access to, and which has only within the last few years been placed in our hands. The movements and aspect of their sea monster are those of an animal with which we are now well acquainted, but of the existence of which the narrators of these occasional visitations were unaware; namely, the great calamary, the same which gave rise to the stories of the Kraken, and which has probably been a denizen of the Scandinavian seas and fjords from time immemorial. It must be remembered, as I have elsewhere said, that until the year 1873, notwithstanding the adventure of the Alecton in 1861, a cuttle measuring in total length fifty or sixty feet was generally looked upon as equally mythical with the great sea-serpent. Both were popularly scoffed at, and to express belief in either was to incur ridicule. But in the year above mentioned, specimens of even greater dimensions than those quoted were met with on the coasts of Newfoundland, and portions of them were deposited in museums, to silence the incredulous and interest zoologists. When Archdeacon Deinbolt published in 1846 the declaration of Mr. Lund and his companions of the fishing excursion, he and they knew nothing of there being such an animal. They had formed no conception of it, nor had they the instructive privilege, possessed of late years by the public in England, of being able to watch attentively, and at leisure, the habits and movements of these strangely modified mollusks living in great tanks of sea-water in aquaria. If they had been thus acquainted with them, I believe they would have recognised in their supposed snake the elongated body of a giant squid.


When swimming, these squids propel themselves backwards by the out-rush of a stream of water from a tube pointed in a direction contrary to that in which the animal the description, and the excurrent stream pouring aft from the locomotor tube, causes a long swirl and swell to be left in the animal's wake, which, as I have often seen, may easily be mistaken for an indefinite prolongation of its body. The eyes are very large and prominent, and the general tone of colour varies through every tint of brown, purple, pink, and grey, as the creature is more or less excited, and the pigmentary matter circulates with more or less vigour through the curiously moving cells.

Here we have the "long marine animal" with "two fins on the forepart of the body near the head," the "boiling of the water," the "moving in undulations," the "body round, and of a dark colour," the "waving motion in the water behind the animal, from which the witnesses concluded that part of the body was concealed under water," the "head raised, but the lower part not visible," "the sharp snout," the "smooth skin," and the appearance described by Mr. William Knudtzon, and Candidatus Theologiæ Bochlum, of "the head being long and small in proportion to the throat, the latter appearing much greater than the former," which caused them to think "it was probably furnished with a mane." Not that they saw any mane, but as they had been told of it, they thought they ought to have seen it. Less careful and conscientious persons would have persuaded themselves, and declared on oath, that they did see it.

I need scarcely point out how utterly irreconcileable is the proverbially smooth, gliding motion of a serpent, with the supposition of its passage through the water causing such frictional disturbance that "white foam appeared before it, and at the side, which stretched out several fathoms," and of "the water boiling around it on both sides of it." The cuttle is the only animal that I know of that would cause this by the effluent current from its "syphon tube." I have seen a deeply laden ship push in front of her a vast hillock of water, which fell off on each side in foam as it was parted by her bow; but that was of man's construction. Nature builds on better lines. No swimming creature has such unnecessary friction to overcome. Even the seemingly unwieldy body of a porpoise enters and passes through the water without a splash, and nothing can be more easy and graceful than the feathering action of the flippers of the awkward-looking turtle.

We now come to an incident which, from the character of those who witnessed it, immediately commanded attention, and excited popular curiosity. In the Times of the 9th of October, 1848, appeared a paragraph stating that a sea-serpent had been met with by the Dædalus frigate, on her homeward voyage from the East Indies. The Admiralty immediately inquired of her commander, Captain M'Quhæ, as to the truth of the report; and his official reply, as follows, addressed to Admiral Sir W. H. Gage, G.C.H., Devonport, was printed in the Times of the 13th of October, 1848.

"H.M.S. Dædalus, Hamoaze,

"October 11th, 1848.

"Sir,—In reply to your letter of this date, requiring information as to the truth of the statement published in the Times newspaper, of a sea-serpent of extraordinary dimensions having been seen from H.M.S. Dædalus, under my command, on her passage from the East Indies, I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that at 5 o'clock P.M. on the 6th of Aug. last, in lat. 24° 44' S. and long. 9° 22' E., the weather dark and cloudy, wind fresh from the N.W. with a long ocean swell from the W., the ship on the port tack, head being N.E. by N., something very unusual was seen by Mr. Sartoris, midshipman, rapidly approaching the ship from before the beam. The circumstance was immediately reported by him to the officer of the watch, Lieut. Edgar Drummond, with whom and Mr. Wm. Barrett, the Master, I was at the time walking the quarter-deck. The ship's company were at supper. On our attention being called to the object it was discovered to be an enormous serpent, with head and shoulders kept about four feet constantly above the surface of the sea, and, as nearly as we could approximate by comparing it with the length of what our main-topsail yard would show in the water, there was at the very least sixty feet of the animal à fleur d'eau, no portion of which was, to our perception, used in propelling it through the water, either by vertical or horizontal undulation. It passed rapidly, but so close under our lee quarter that had it been a man of my acquaintance I should easily have recognised his features with the naked eye; and it did not, either in approaching the ship or after it had passed our wake, deviate in the slightest degree from its course to the S.W., which it held on at the pace of from twelve to fifteen miles per hour, apparently on some determined purpose.

"The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches behind the head, which was without any doubt that of a snake; and it was never, during the twenty minutes it continued in sight of our glasses, once below the surface of the water; its colour dark brown, and yellowish white about the throat. It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of seaweed, washed about its back. It was seen by the quartermaster, the boatswain's mate, and the man at the wheel, in addition to myself and the officers above mentioned.

"I am having a drawing of the serpent made from a sketch taken immediately after it was seen, which I hope to have ready for transmission to my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by to-morrow's post.—Peter M'Quhæ, Captain."

The sketches referred to in the captain's letter were made under his supervision, and copies of them, of which he certified his approbation, were published in the Illustrated London News on the 28th of October, 1848. I am kindly permitted by the proprietors of that journal to reproducetwo of them, reduced in size to suit these pages—one showing the relative positions of the "serpent" and the ship when the former was first seen (Frontispiece), and the other (Fig. 19) representing the animal afterwards passing under the frigate's quarter. An enlarged drawing of its head was also given, which I have not thought it necessary to copy.


Lieutenant Drummond, the officer of the watch mentioned in Captain M'Quhæ's report, published his memorandum of the impression made on his mind by the animal at the time of its appearance. It differs somewhat from the captain's description, and is the more cautious of the two.

"I beg to send you the following extract from my journal. H.M.S. 'Dædalus,' August 6, 1848, lat. 25° S., long. 9° 37' E., St. Helena 1,015 miles. In the 4 to 6 watch, at about 5 o'clock, we observed a most remarkable fish on our lee-quarter, crossing the stern in a S.W. direction. The appearance of its head, which with the back fin was the only portion of the animal visible, was long, pointed and flattened at the top, perhaps ten feet in length, the upper jaw projecting considerably; the fin was perhaps 20 feet in the rear of the head, and visible occasionally; the captain also asserted that he saw the tail, or another fin, about the same distance behind it; the upper part of the head and shoulders appeared of a dark brown colour, and beneath the under-jaw a brownish-white. It pursued a steady undeviating course, keeping its head horizontal with the surface of the water, and in rather a raised position, disappearing occasionally beneath a wave for a very brief interval, and not apparently for purposes of respiration. It was going at the rate of perhaps from twelve to fourteen miles an hour, and when nearest was perhaps one hundred yards distant; in fact it gave one quite the idea of a large snake or eel. No one in the ship has ever seen anything similar; so it is at least extraordinary. It was visible to the naked eye for five minutes, and with a glass for perhaps fifteen more. The weather was dark and squally at the time, with some sea running.—Edgar Drummond, Lieut. H.M.S. 'Dædalus;' Southampton, Oct. 28, 1848."

Statements so interesting and important, of course, elicited much correspondence and controversy. Mr. J. D. Morries Stirling, a director of the Bergen Museum, wrote to the Secretary of the British Admiralty, Captain Hamilton, R.N., saying that while becalmed in a yacht between Bergen and Sogne, in Norway, he had seen, three years previously, a large fish or reptile of cylindrical form (he would not say "sea serpent") ruffling the otherwise smooth surface of the fjord. No head was visible. This appears to have been, like the others from the same locality, a large calamary. Mr. Stirling unaware, doubtless, that Mr. Edward Newman, editor of the Zoologist, had previously propounded the same idea, suggested that the supposed serpent might be one of the old marine reptiles, hitherto supposed only to exist in the fossil state. This letter was published in the Illustrated News of October 28th, and four days afterwards, November 2nd, a letter signed F.G.S. appeared in the Times, in which the same idea was mooted, and the opinion expressed that it might be the Plesiosaurus. This brought out that great master in physiology, Professor Owen, who in a long, and, it is needless to say, most able letter to the Times, dated the 9th of November, 1848, set forth a series of weighty arguments against belief in the supposed serpent, which I regret that I am unable, from want of space, to quote in extenso. The reasoning of the most eminent of living physiologists of course had its influence on those who could best appreciate it; but, as it went against the current of popular opinion, it met with little favour from the public, and has been slurred over much too superciliously by some subsequent writers. He suggested also that the creature seen might have been a great seal, such as the leonine seal, or the sea-elephant (the head, as shown in the enlarged drawing, was wonderfully seal-like), but it was generally felt that this explanation was unsatisfactory. The nature of his criticism of the official statement will be seen from Captain M'Quhæ's reply, which was promptly given in the Times of the 21st of November, 1848, as follows:—

"Professor Owen correctly states that I evidently saw a large creature moving rapidly through the water very different from anything I had before witnessed, neither a whale, a grampus, a great shark, an alligator, nor any of the larger surface-swimming creatures fallen in with in ordinary voyages. I now assert—neither was it a common seal nor a sea-elephant, its great length and its totally differing physiognomy precluding the possibility of its being a 'Phoca' of any species. The head was flat, and not a 'capacious vaulted cranium;' nor had it a stiff, inflexible trunk—a conclusion at which Professor Owen has jumped, most certainly not justified by the simple statement, that no portion of the sixty feet seen by us was used in propelling it through the water either by vertical or horizontal undulation.

"It is also assumed that the 'calculation of its length was made under a strong preconception of the nature of the beast;' another conclusion quite contrary to the fact. It was not until after the great length was developed by its nearest approach to the ship, and until after that most important point had been duly considered and debated, as well as such could be in the brief space of time allowed for so doing, that it was pronounced to be a serpent by all who saw it, and who are too well accustomed to judge of lengths and breadths of objects in the sea to mistake a real substance and an actual living body, coolly and dispassionately contemplated, at so short a distance, too, for the 'eddy caused by the action of the deeper immersed fins and tail of a rapidly moving gigantic seal raising its head above the surface of the water,' as Professor Owen imagines, in quest of its lost iceberg.

"The creative powers of the human mind may be very limited. On this occasion they were not called into requisition; my purpose and desire throughout being to furnish eminent naturalists, such as the learned Professor, with accurate facts, and not with exaggerated representations, nor with what could by any possibility proceed from optical illusion; and I beg to assure him that old Pontoppidan having clothed his sea-serpent with a mane could not have suggested the idea of ornamenting the creature seen from the 'Dædalus' with a similar appendage, for the simple reason that I had never seen his account, or even heard of his sea-serpent, until my arrival in London. Some other solution must therefore be found for the very remarkable coincidence between us in that particular, in order to unravel the mystery.

"Finally, I deny the existence of excitement or the possibility of optical illusion. I adhere to the statements, as to form, colour, and dimensions, contained in my official report to the Admiralty, and I leave them as data whereupon the learned and scientific may exercise the 'pleasures of imagination' until some more fortunate opportunity shall occur of making a closer acquaintance with the 'great unknown'—in the present instance most assuredly no ghost.

"P. M'Quhæ, late Captain of H.M.S. 'Dædalus.'"

Of course neither Professor Owen, nor any one else, doubted the veracity or bona fides of the captain and officers of one of Her Majesty's ships; and their testimony was the more important because it was that of men accustomed to the sights of the sea. Their practised eyes would, probably, be able to detect the true character of anything met with afloat, even if only partially seen, as intuitively as the Red Indian reads the signs of the forest or the trail; and therefore they were not likely to be deceived by any of the objects with which sailors are familiar. They would not be deluded by seals, porpoises, trunks of trees, or Brobdingnagian stems of algæ; but there was one animal with which they were not familiar, of the existence of which they were unaware, and which, as I have said, at that date was

In a letter addressed to the Editor of the Bombay Times, and dated "Kamptee, January 3rd, 1849," Mr. R. Davidson, Superintending Surgeon, Nagpore Subsidiary Force, describes a great sea animal seen by him whilst on board the ship Royal Saxon, on a voyage to India, in 1829. The features of this incident are consistent with his having seen one of the, then unknown, great calamaries.

Dr. Scott, of Exeter, sent to the Editor of the Zoologist (p. 2459), an extract from the memorandum-book of Lieutenant Sandford, R.N., written about the year 1820, when he was in command of the merchant ship Lady Combermere. In it he mentions his having met with, in lat. 46, long. 3 (Bay of Biscay), an animal unknown to him, an immense body on the surface of the water, spouting, not unlike the blowing of a whale, and the raising up of a triangular extremity, and subsequently of a head and neck erected six feet above the surface of the water. This was evidently a great squid seen under circumstances similar to those described by Hans Egede (p. 67).

In the Sun Newspaper of July 9th, 1849, was published the following statement of Captain Herriman, of the ship Brazilian:

"On the morning of the 24th February, the ship being becalmed in lat. 26° S., long. 8° E. (about forty miles from the place where Captain M'Quhæ is said to have seen the serpent), the captain perceived something right astern, stretched along the water to a length of twenty five or thirty feet, and perceptibly moving from the ship, with a steady sinuous motion. The head, which seemed to be lifted several feet above the water, had something resembling a mane running down to the floating portion, and within about six feet of the tail. Of course Captain Herriman, Mr. Long, his chief officer, and the passengers who saw this came to the conclusion that it must be the sea-serpent. As the 'Brazilian' was making no headway, to bring all doubts to an issue, the captain had a boat lowered, and himself standing in the bow, armed with a harpoon, approached the monster. It was found to be an immense piece of sea-weed, drifting with the current, which sets constantly to the westward in this latitude, and which, with the swell left by the subsidence of a previous gale, gave it the sinuous snake-like motion."

Captain Harrington, of the ship Castilian, reported in the Times of February 5th, 1858, that:

"On the 12th of December, 1857, N.E. end of St. Helena distant ten miles, he and his officers were startled by the sight of a huge marine animal which reared its head out of the water within twenty yards of the ship. The head was shaped like a long nun-buoy, and they supposed it to have been seven or eight feet in diameter in the largest part, with a kind of scroll or tuft of loose skin, encircling it about two feet from the top. The water was discoloured for several hundred feet from its head, so much so that on its first appearance my impression was that the ship was in broken water."

Evidently, again, a large calamary raising its caudal extremity and fin above the surface, and discolouring the water by discharging its ink.

This was immediately followed by a letter from Captain Frederick Smith, of the ship Pekin, who stated that:

"On December 28th, 1848, being then in lat. 26° S., long. 6° E. (about half-way between the Cape and St. Helena), he saw a very extraordinary-looking thing in the water, of considerable length. With the telescope, he could plainly discern a huge head and neck, covered with a shaggy-looking kind of mane, which it kept lifting at intervals out of water. This was seen by all hands, and was declared to be the great sea-serpent. A boat was lowered; a line was made fast to the 'snake,' and it was towed alongside and hoisted on board. It was a piece of gigantic sea-weed, twenty feet long, and completely covered with snaky-looking barnacles. So like a huge living monster did this appear, that had circumstances prevented my sending a boat to it, I should certainly have believed I had seen the great sea-serpent."

In September, 1872, Mr. Frank Buckland published, in Land and Water, an account by the late Duke of Marlborough, of a "sea-serpent" having been seen several times within a few days, in Loch Hourn, Scotland. A sketch of it was given which almost exactly accorded with that of Pontoppidan's sea-serpent, namely, seven hunches or protuberances like so many porpoises swimming in line, preceded by a head and neck raised slightly out of water. Many other accounts have been published of the appearance of serpent-like sea monsters, but I have only space for two or three more of the most remarkable of them.

On the 10th of January, 1877, the following affidavit was made before Mr. Raffles, magistrate, at Liverpool:

"We, the undersigned officers and crew of the barque 'Pauline' (of London), of Liverpool, in the county of Lancaster, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, do solemnly and sincerely declare that, on July 8, 1875, in lat. 5° 13' S., long. 35° W., we observed three large sperm whales, and one of them was gripped round the body with two turns of what appeared to be a huge serpent. The head and tail appeared to have a length beyond the coils of about thirty feet, and its girth eight feet or nine feet. The serpent whirled its victim round and round for about fifteen minutes, and then suddenly dragged the whale to the bottom, head first.

"Geo. Drevar, Master; Horatio Thompson, John Henderson

Landells, Owen Baker, and William


"Again, on July 13, a similar serpent was seen, about two hundred yards off, shooting itself along the surface, head and neck being out of the water several feet. This was seen only by the captain and one ordinary seaman.

"George Drevar, Master.

"A few moments after it was seen some 60 feet elevated perpendicularly in the air by the chief officer and the following seamen:—Horatio Thompson, Owen Baker, Wm. Lewarn. And we make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing the same to be true."

In the Illustrated London News, of November 20th, 1875, there had previously appeared a letter from the Rev. E. L. Penny, Chaplain to H.M.S. London, at Zanzibar, describing this occurrence and also the representation of a sketch (which I am kindly permitted to reproduce here), drawn by him from the descriptions given by the captain and crew of the Pauline. "The whale," he said, "should have been placed deeper in the water, but he would then have been unable to depict so clearly the manner in which the animal was attacked." He adds that, "Captain Drevar is a singularly able and observant man, and those of the crew and officers with whom he conversed were singularly intelligent; nor did any of their descriptions vary from one another in the least: there were no discrepancies." The event took place whilst their vessel was on her way from Shields to Zanzibar, with a cargo of coals, for the use of H.M.S. London, then the guard ship on that station.

It is impossible to doubt for a moment the genuineness of the statement made by Captain Drevar and his crew, or their honest desire to describe faithfully that which they believed they had seen; but the height to which the snake is said to have upreared itself is evidently greatly exaggerated; for it is impossible that any serpent could "elevate its body some sixty feet perpendicularly in the air"—nearly one-third of the height of the Monument of the Great Fire ofLondon. I have no desire to force this narrative of the master and crew of the Pauline into conformity with any preconceived idea. They may have seen a veritable sea-serpent; or they may have witnessed the amours of two whales, and have seen the great creatures rolling over and over that they might breathe alternately by the blow-hole of each coming to the surface of the water; or the supposed coils of the snake may have been the arms of a great calamary, cast over and around the huge cetacean. The other two appearances—1st, the animal "seen shooting itself along the surface with head and neck raised" (p. 77), and 2nd, the elevation of the body to a considerable height, as in Egede's sea monster, (p. 67), would certainly accord with this last hypothesis; but, taking the statement as it stands, it must be left for further elucidation.


On the 28th of January, 1879, a "sea-serpent" was seen from the s.s. City of Baltimore, in the Gulf of Aden, by Major H. W. J. Senior, of the Bengal Staff Corps. The narrator "observed a long, black object darting rapidly in and out of the water, and advancing nearer to the vessel. The shape of the head was not unlike pictures of the dragon he had often seen, with a bull-dog expression of the forehead and eyebrows. When the monster had drawn its head sufficiently out of the water, it let its body drop, as it were a log of wood, prior to darting forward under the water. This motion caused a splash of about fifteen feet in length on either side of the neck much in the 'shape of a pair of wings.'" This last particular of its appearance, as well as its movements, suggest a great calamary; but, as one with "a bull-dog expression of eyebrow, visible at 500 yards distance," does not come within my ken, I will not claim it as such.

In June 1877 Commander Pearson reported to the Admiralty, that on the 2nd of that month, he and other officers of the Royal Yacht Osborne, had seen, off Cape Vito, Sicily, a large marine animal, of which the following account and sketches were furnished by Lieutenant Haynes, and were confirmed by Commander Pearson, Mr. Douglas Haynes, Mr. Forsyth, and Mr. Moore, engineer.


"Lieutenant Haynes writes, under date, 'Royal Yacht Osborne, Gibraltar, June 6': On the evening of that day, the sea being perfectly smooth, my attention was first called by seeing a ridge of fins above feet across, and the flappers each about fifteen feet in length. The movements of the flappe

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